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What is a 'GP' and tips on how to talk to one

Today's post looks at the role of the General Practitioner in the UK, and tips on what you might want to think about if you ever need to visit one.

What is a General Practitioner?

A general practitioner, commonly called a GP, is a doctor that is based in your local community. They are essential to you being able to access most other NHS services. They often work in GP practices/surgeries. These often host other health professionals, for example, nurses and paramedics.


GPs are experts and highly skilled in working with a variety of patients. They will help you to care for your own health and prevent illness. GPs are trained in all aspects of general medicine - this includes mental and physical health.


A GP will diagnose, treat and manage illnesses themselves but may also refer you for specialist care or tests. Your GP is key in supporting you during your treatment and advocating your needs to other NHS services.


You must register with a GP surgery as soon as possible to access care. All UK residents are entitled to see a GP. Those on a Student Route VISA are entitled to the same rights as UK residents and so may access a GP without any additional charges.


Short term VISA students will usually need to pay for their care as and when they need it.


You can also access a GP privately if you're prepared to pay for this yourself or have private health insurance.


When should I see my GP?

GPs can be very busy. If you're feeling slightly unwell, for example, have a stomach ache or a headache, it would be worthwhile first speaking to a local pharmacist. With them, they are often closer, available across more hours and weekends and you won't need to book an appointment.


If your symptoms persist, then you often should see your GP.


If in doubt you can contact NHS 111 and they can guide you about where best to go.


Tips for your appointment


Before your appointment


1. Make notes.

Note down: your symptoms, any medication you're taking and key questions. This will help keep your time with GP focussed and may help communicate what's wrong.


When did you first feel ill?

What have you done to treat yourself? Does anything make your symptoms worse or better?


Prioritise what you want to talk through. It might be that you need to see a doctor you've seen before, or that a practise nurse might be able to help you instead.


2. We're going into extra time!

If you've got several issues to talk through or require additional support, then it's worthwhile asking for extra time. They might offer a double appointment if one is available.


For example, if a translator is needed, the surgery may offer a longer appointment. You might have additional needs; for example, you need to be met on the ground floor, or need extra time to communicate effectively.


3. Do you need language support?

English might be an additional language, and you may need a little extra help chatting things through with your GP.

You may want to bring a friend or family member with you, so make sure your appointment works for them. You can request an interpreter if it's available when you book your appointment.


During your appointment

1. Ask Questions

If you're confused or don't understand something, don't be afraid to ask. A GP will want you to leave confident that you know what has been discussed and with a shared agreement of your care and any treatment.


2. Make notes (yes...again)

You might want to take notes for you to reflect on later. Let the doctor know because they may be able to help you, for example, print some handouts or share guidance. If you have brought a family member or a friend with you, they may take notes for you.


3. Stay calm

GPs meet a diverse range of people, with different needs, backgrounds and issues. There's no need to be scared, embarrassed or afraid. GPs have been trained so that they support you, even if it's your first appointment.


Before you leave your appointment


1. Have you covered everything?

Look through your notes and see if you've covered everything on your list. It's worthwhile double-checking. If it's not urgent, the GP may ask you to make another appointment.


2. Next steps (...and note them down)

Are you clear on what you need to do after you leave? It could be arranging an appointment, visiting a pharmacy or going back home for bed rest. Your doctor may ask for you to follow-up on your appointment to check-in. Note this down so you can review this afterwards.


3. Any questions?

If you're still not clear about what you've discussed then before you leave it's worth double-checking now before you leave.

After your appointment


1. Review your notes

If you've made any notes (come on!), it's worthwhile reading through them. Do you know what was discussed and what you need to do next? You might want to keep these notes so if you're asked about your treatment you can use these to recall.


2. Update your diary, make reminders.

You might be asked to book a follow-up appointment or to take medication during certain times of the day or have to contact your GP again on a certain date. If so, it's worthwhile noting these in your diary and maybe setting up an alarm or reminder on your phone.


3. Will you miss anything? Letting your people know.

You might not be available due to your treatment, and it could be that you have to stay at home or have to miss a lecture for a hospital appointment. If you do, then it's a good idea to let your university or your workplace know.

Working in Partnership

The project is nation-wide, and we're making a real effort to engage with everyone interested in international student mental health, including universities, mental health services, students unions, sector bodies, charities and organisations such a private student accommodation.


The project is led by the University of Nottingham, in partnership with the University of Nottingham Students' Union, University of Leeds, Leeds University Union, SOAS, SOAS Students' Union, Student Minds and Campuslife Ltd.

Project funded as part of the Office for Students Mental Health Challenge Competition.


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